So you may have heard that there’s a drought going on, robbing Americans of their god-given rights to enviously plush lawns, refillable hot springs, and a bottomless bowl of almonds on every table. But the real trouble is yet to come.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization put together this heat chart of which crops are most heavily irrigated in every region of the world—and, when you look at it for a little while, it reveals something troubling about what a continuing global drought might look like.
Some of what you see here is just a feature of the crops themselves. Cereal crops are pretty thirsty, so it’s unsurprising that they feature heavily in the world’s irrigation. What’s really interesting, though, are the outliers—and what they tell us about both what’s already going on with the water situation and where we should be most wary.
For instance, North America is bringing in an unusual amount of water not to feed us directly, but to feed the livestock that will eventually feed us. In fact, both the U.S. and South Asia are remarkably dependent on irrigation overall for almost all our food crops. With the exception of legume farms, Northern America is more likely to be irrigating all its food crops than the rest of the world.
Drought is going to change the way we eat in unexpected ways. Some of it will be a simple matter of singular food shortages—a distressing, but not fatal, lack of coffee or almonds. But what’s going to hit harder are the changes to our staple crops, the ones we depend on that are suddenly less dependable. All of this is to say, if the droughts were seeing keep on getting harsher and worse—they way they have been doing steadily in the last several years—you might want to start perfecting those lentil recipes, America.